WASHINGTON – The top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is demanding an investigation into a former top aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy who faces federal charges of embezzling almost $900,000.
In a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. dated Aug. 27, Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana, said “serious questions remain unanswered regarding EPA’s internal processes that enabled such fraud to occur” and asked Elkins to “make recommendations to ensure that this does not happen again.”
The Department of Justice on Aug. 23 filed a criminal information with the U.S. District Court of Washington D.C. maintaining that John C. Beale, 64, onetime deputy administrator within the Office of Air and Radiation, stole and converted for his own use $886,186 beginning sometime in 2000 to April 30, 2013.
A document accompanying the criminal information asserts that Beale stole the money by collecting bonuses and extra salary he was not entitled to during his EPA tenure. If convicted, Beale faces a maximum 10 years in prison, a fine and restitution.
Beale was a veteran EPA employee, serving under presidents of both parties for more than two decades. He served as McCarthy’s top deputy when she headed the Office of Air and Radiation from 2009 until taking over the agency in July.
In his letter, Vitter said the Beale matter “raises a number of questions about the integrity of the process that administers EPA’s workforce payroll and benefits.”
“In the case of the EPA, it seems that critical components of the process were vulnerable to abuse, directly contributing to massive fraud for over a decade,” he said.
The workforce payroll constitutes about 25 percent of EPA’s total annual budget. The integrity of the system, Vitter said, is of consequence in budget considerations.
“There appears to be corruption to the umpteenth degree,” Vitter said. “I think it’s appalling that Administrator McCarthy and former acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe could claim that sequester is depriving the agency of important resources when in fact their own employees are stealing from the government. It’s clear that further investigations are necessary and at the appropriate time we’ll need answers — a whole lot of answers.”
The EPA declined comment, other than to say it is cooperating with the Department of Justice in the investigation.
Vitter has been a critic of EPA operations since assuming the position of ranking member in January, threatening at one point to filibuster McCarthy’s nomination unless the agency became more transparent in its dealings. His threat came after revelations that top agency officials were using private email accounts to communicate, apparently in an effort to guard against some official communiques from ever becoming public.
One of those involved in the email controversy was former administrator Lisa Jackson. On Aug. 15, Vitter joined with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, in a letter to Jackson asking her to provide them with the private email accounts she used to conduct official business during her tenure.
“As the EPA Administrator, we expect you would have knowledge of EPA’s policy that explicitly prohibits use of non-EPA.gov e-mail for business purposes,” the letter said. “We are concerned that your use of a non-official e-mail account was a deliberate attempt to circumvent federal transparency laws and congressional oversight.”
The use of a non-official account, the two lawmakers wrote, raises concerns that Jackson “attempted to insulate” communications with an environmental lobbyist, Siemens Corporation Vice President Alison Taylor and possibly other email correspondence from congressional inquiry and Freedom of Information Act requests.
Vitter and Issa said the use of private email may constitute a violation of the Federal Records Act. They asked Jackson, now vice president of environmental initiatives at Apple Inc., to send to them all emails sent or received from any private email account from Jan. 23, 2009, through Feb. 19, 2013, that refer or relate to her responsibilities as an EPA official.
Jackson used the alias “Richard Windsor” for her private email account.